Eek. It's here. The biggie...This is always a sticky subject to get into. People can get very defensive about their discipline methods and can be judgmental of others not doing what they do. At both extremes of the severity spectrum!
I always think that if you have been intentional in your approach though, and know it is well reasoned and right for your family then you have no need to be defensive. I am confident that this is the way for our family to discipline our children. I do however try and discuss the whys of what we do AND the why nots of other discipline methods in order to help explain it to others who may have not thought through their approach. It’s not like I’m trying to convince everyone to do it ‘our’ way but instead provide a reasoned argument for those who may find it useful.
What we do
Firstly, we try to keep discipline encounters as simple and short as possible. This is key. Especially for a child with a learning disability. It takes patience and planning to not overcomplicate the issue needing addressed. By planning I mean we have essentially developed a script process where we identify areas that may need disciplining, to ensure that Colin and I are saying the same thing every time. I think consistency is key for all children but particularly for those with a learning disability so there aren’t mixed messages.
Before we correct the behaviour, we first connect with the boys. Of course, many days I veer off script or my patience runs thin so I just shout “NAME, stop doing that!” but generally we start off with an understanding of why they’re behaving the way they are;
NAME, you like to throw, don’t you?! Throwing is fun!
You’re sad because we have to go home now. I’m sad too, it’s fun here!
NAME, I know you’re getting tired / aren’t feeling well / are hungry …
NAME, I can see you’re cross that SCENARIO just happened (normally the sibling taking a toy off them or something) because you were playing with it first.
This is incredibly effective at getting them to calm down and focus on what we’re about to say.
Addressing behaviours and providing alternatives
Again, we keep this simple, to one sentence. We explain why they can’t do what they’re doing, and redirect to either a safer alternative or something else altogether. If they’ve hurt someone we tell them that but don’t force a sorry. I’d say about 80-90% of the time they will spontaneously apologise. If they don’t I will model it by empathising to the person (not an apology sorry but an empathy sorry);
When you throw XX you can break it/break something else/hurt someone. If you want to throw, let’s get a ball! *redirect to a ball*
It’s time to go now though and we can’t throw a tantrum. When we get home we’ll watch some TV, what would you like to watch today?
You can’t hit / punch / tantrum even if you’re tired / hungry etc. Let’s go and cuddle up over here so you can have a rest / Let’s go get a small snack for you while we wait for dinner to be ready.
Hitting your brother hurts, and I won’t let you hurt NAME. Even when you’re cross, use your words or ask mummy to come and help you get the toy back. Let’s get it back now (and we then take it back off the stealer, assuming it was clear who was in the wrong!)
If there’s no apology I will turn to the person wronged and say, “I’m sorry that NAME just hurt you. That must’ve been sore. Would you like to read a book with mummy/other treat?”
And then we move on. The behaviour has been addressed and there’s no need to dwell on it. Key is keeping it simple showing them how to exercise self control when they’re cross or tired and providing them with alternatives. The connection seems to really help them listen and get on board with what we have to say.
What we don’t do
While ‘better’ than other methods of disciplining, I believe that time-outs (or naughty steps) do not achieve long term cooperation or understanding. They don’t allow young children to learn how to regulate and deal with their emotions. They haven’t been taught what that emotion or reaction was about and how to sort it next time.
Natural consequences are fine – you break a toy, it gets taken away, you take something off someone, we give it back to them. But not letting them go and get a treat three days from now because they misbehaved today just isn’t on our radar.
As Christians, we look at the cycle of the Old Testament where God’s people rebelled against the Law, and God routinely punished them for breaking the Law, further Law would be imposed, they would rebel again and so on. We see that punishment does not lead to changed hearts or devoted obedience. Instead, we look to the New Testament where we can gain a punishment free relationship – one where we are disciplined by a loving God, seeking to restore us to him with a changed heart.
We 100% do not lay a finger on our children. There is an incredible amount of evidence out there about the negative impact physical abuse has on children, and how wonderful a strong, attached, gentle approach has on long term mental health, communication into teenage years and beyond and facilitating a guiding relationship – exactly the way we are parented/guided by God. I do not believe that God has given us brains to be able to research the psychological impact of this and then want us to do the opposite.
Christians often use badly translated verses in the Bible to back up physical punishment – e.g. the ‘rod’ in Proverbs, badly translated from ‘shevet’, which means the shepherd’s staff. Guidance, correction, discipline not physical abuse.
To end, people often reference Hebrews 12 in relation to a strict approach to disciplining our children. But this word ‘discipline’ comes from the Greek ‘paideia’ which means to instruct. Training. To me it’s guiding children how they should respond in various situations. When they’re angry, or sad, or frustrated. It amazes me how many parents seem to require a higher standard of behaviour for their children than that of themselves. We need to understand that children often don’t have the words for what is going on, for their emotions, whether they’re tired, even how they’re feeling (most young children, for example, can’t articulate when they have a sore head and we all know how awful headache pain can be) – it’s our job to name the emotion and explain and train them how to respond appropriately. Not hit them because the resulting behaviour was undesirable. I live my life trying to be like Jesus. He was gentle and kind – He still rebukes His disciples and continually guides them but models what He talks about rather than being controlling or angry. That’s what I want to do when disciplining my children.